As long as I write about all the things I like about traveling, hotels, airlines, cruise lines it seems only fair that when I encounter something well, not so good, I should share that as well. I need to tell you about a car rental at Houston Intercontinental.
I have to admit that it has been a while since I have rented a car. The following encounter with a rental car company should be a word to the wise for you road warriors and vacationers out there.
My wife and I recently hopped on a plane to get out of the frozen tundra of Minnesota. We weren’t really particular about where we were going, it just had to be above freezing. On this occasion we ended up in IAH or Houston Intercontinental Airport.
Before we left home I made a rental car reservation online. We had no particular schedule so I chose the weekly rental rate as it was the best choice for cost per day with a car.
Everything was going too smoothly. No snowstorm to cause massive delays on departure. We even got upgraded to first class. Are you kidding me? That never happens unless you have 5 million miles per year under your belt. We arrived in IAH fifteen minutes early and got right into our gate. We got off the plane and headed for baggage claim and there were our bags waiting for us. This does not happen very often for us either. Our bags are usually the first and the last bag to arrive on the baggage carousel. We followed the signs out of baggage claim and reached the rental car center shuttle bus stop just as a bus pulled up. It was just a short ride to the car rental facility at Houston Intercontinental and then the wheels started falling off.
There were no lines except for Thrifty, with whom I made my reservation. I was only number five in line but there was of course only one agent working. Things had gone so well so far that I didn’t let the wait bother me and after 20 minutes or so it was my turn with the agent.
She asked me for my name and reservation confirmation number. Nothing under my name so I checked my phone for the confirmation email. There wasn’t one. Hmmm. As luck would have it I actually wrote down the confirmation number on a little piece of paper at home when I made the reservation and stuck it in my wallet. Who does that anymore? The agent found my reservation and asked for a drivers license and a credit card. My credit card wouldn’t swipe right and she would not accept it. I went to my wife and got her credit card and brought it to the agent. She said the credit card had to have my name on it. I tried to explain that we have a joint account with two cards so it shouldn’t matter. The agent said to me “I don’t care but they do”. I said why do “they” care who pays for the rental and got the look back from the agent. The agent moved to a different machine at the counter and amazingly my credit card worked fine. We just had to redo all the data over again which of course took quite a while.
I reserved a Ford Focus online and when the agent quoted some car I wasn’t familiar I said “I rented a Ford Focus online.” She told me that it didn’t matter. I protested that it did. She won I guess because she kept working on a reservation for a car I wasn’t familiar with.
As usual I was asked about supplemental insurance and I declined. Then the lecture started about all the things that could go wrong that I would be personally responsible for. I stood my ground so the agent jump shifted to telling me the policy about filling the car up with gas within ten miles of the rental facility on my return and that I had to bring a receipt to prove that I had complied with this policy. This was a new addition to the customer harassment policy that I had not seen before.
When she brought up the part about returning the car full of gas from a station within ten miles it caused me to asked her if there was a problem if we wanted to stay longer or shorter than a week. She assured me that a phone call would take care of everything but that there would be an additional fee. “What kind of additional fee” I asked. It would be an additional 23 dollars a day plus the rental plus additional tax. “What if I only stayed a couple of days” I asked. That would be an additional 15 dollars a day plus rental and tax she replied. At this point I was getting kind of concerned because doing the math in my head my 250 dollar car rental could balloon to over 600 dollars for a compact car.
The agent started posting all the fee agreements on the swipe pad on the counter. Each of these would take a few minutes to read and honestly you would have to be an attorney to understand them. At the bottom of each of these electronic pages was an I accept button that I had to push to keep going. After two of these pages I asked how many more? The agent said a few more. Then they snuck in the insurance that I had previously declined on one of the next pages. That would have been another $180. That was enough.
There was another car rental agency with a booth right next door with three agents watching all of this. There were no customers lined up at this company. I turned to them and asked “Do you have cars available?”. “Yes” came the reply. “Do you charge me additional fees if I return the car early or extend my stay?” I asked. “No” was their reply. “Do I have to fill up the car within ten miles of this facility and bring a receipt?” I asked. “NO” was their reply. “How much for a compact car?” I asked. Let’s just say it was a better rate and they upgraded me to a nicer car.
I looked at the agent from the bad car rental company and said sorry, I am going to rent from them. She said “I don’t blame you”. Hmmmm.
Within five minutes the paperwork was done and they accepted my wife’s credit card. The agent walked us out to the car and showed us some of the features and how they worked. What a difference in service and attitude.
Lot’s of lessons here. If you find you self in line for a car rental at Houston Intercontinental and your car rental companie’s logo is blue and the name rhymes with nifty…you may want to try someone else. I recommend using Firefly. They were great. If you have no other choice but to stand in line, be very careful…..and write your confirmation number down and stick it in your wallet.